Conflict, confrontation and honesty: are they always bad?

I suspect that the way we are raised has a profound impact on whether or not we consider the ability and/or willingness to enter into conflict or confrontation or to be honest to be a positive or negative trait.  I have always felt a bit ambivalent about it.  On the one hand, I know that I’m supposed to shy away from conflict/confrontation/honesty for a variety of reasons.  For example, I’m a woman, and, therefore, it is my bounden duty to suck it up and give and give and give to other people until there is nothing left.  Various interpretations of my faith make rather a big deal about the directive to turn the other cheek, even to an insane degree.  Cognitively, I think all that is just stupid, but the inclination to give to that degree resides much deeper in my being than my cognitive self can always control, and I instinctively think that it’s a sign of poor character that I even feel the inner struggle to stand up for myself on occasion or to be truly honest.  I am not certain, but I believe that this phenomenon of generations of women feeling the desperate need both to prostrate themselves and, simultaneously, to defend themselves is a mid-western trait.

Despite my mid-western upbringing, in my cognitive self (for the most part), I’m not the type to run from confrontation.  There are a few topics that I generally avoid–I am, for example, extremely uncomfortable with conversations (or even just remarks) about my physical appearance unless said remarks are negative…. I use bizarre evasive maneuvers when I encounter positive remarks on my appearance… It makes no sense, but perhaps none of us can be completely logical all of the time–but, aside from all that, I am a forthright person who speaks plainly and has no patience for strange non-confrontational and/or passive aggressive behavior.  However, I feel a profound inner struggle whenever I am called upon by my personality (that cognitive self) to be forthright to an individual or a group.  Maybe honesty is always a fraught thing, its aftermath marked by recrimination and worry.

In a way, isn’t it easiest to simply go along with life?  People misunderstand you?  Eh, let them.  People treat you poorly? Eh, let them.  Even the suffering that comes with just going along with things, whether or not they are what we want, isn’t that also something that we relish, in a strange way?  We point to all of our long-suffering woes as the hallmark of our character.  “I am a good person,” we say, “I let everyone run roughshod over me.  Isn’t that wonderful?”

Life is full of loopholes.  One of my friends, when she was younger, always kept her food separated and was horrified by any mixing of food except that when her mother made mashed potatoes and peas at the same meal and when the mashed potatoes were lumpy, she would mix the two together.  The horror of lumpy mashed potatoes trumped the horror of food mixed together.

In the same way, my ingrained horror of watching other people suffer trumps my ingrained horror of confrontation, so I never feel a compulsion to feel guilty when I have entered into a conflict on behalf of someone else.  If I am merely defending myself, however, I must go through the motions of feeling bad about it until my cognitive self is able to catch up.

This is all very ridiculous.  Is it normal to spend so much time trying to determine the difference between the cognitive self and the deeper self?  Does anyone else think about this sort of thing, or is it all just more evidence of my neurosis?

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3 thoughts on “Conflict, confrontation and honesty: are they always bad?

  1. “Does anyone else think about this sort of thing, or is it all just more evidence of my neurosis?” Speaking as an extremely neurotic person myself, I don’t think these things are mutually exclusive.
    Because of my past and all of the work I’ve done to carve out my personal freedom and identity, I am all for confrontation when it is appropriate. I spent way too many years suffering in silence, and now will not allow myself to be a doormat. Not that I think it is always wise to speak your mind and call people out, because sometimes it is just a wasted effort. There are times, though, where people deserve to be told that their behavior is unacceptable and that they are wrong. That may make me seem “difficult” to some people, but I am willing to accept that in exchange for people knowing that they can no longer take advantage of me without a fight.

    • I don’t think that it’s actually fair to all the people with whom we have relationships to be so long-suffering all the time. There’s always a personal cost when we suck it up, and we sometimes end up passing that cost (or at least part of it) along to other people via passive-aggressive nonsense. The thing is, if we’re the ones choosing to suck it up, it doesn’t seem quite fair to force anyone else to pay part of the cost, right? They didn’t choose it, so why should they have to pay? And that seems totally reasonable to me until I’m in a situation where I feel as though I should be honest with someone about how I feel. Once in that situation, my reflex is to suck it up.

      What I can’t figure out is whether or not it’s actually possible to supersede that reflex, to convince the cognitive self to take over more often.

      • I think it just takes practice. Think of it as building up a muscle. You’ll never have any strength unless you work it out, and although you may be sore the first few times, you’ll eventually hit your groove and come out stronger and healthier. At least that’s my opinion.

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